Report of the Representative Body presented to General Synod
The report of the Representative Church Body was presented to General Synod meeting in Belfast this morning (Thursday May 5). The report notes that during 2021, the total funds available to the RCB increased by €41 million to €249 million. Expenditure from General Funds decreased by €100,000 to €7.1 million. Allocations have been set at €3.7 million for 2022.
Presenting the report, Henry Algeo, chairman of the Executive Committee, started by paying tribute to his predecessor, Henry Saville, noting that his five year term of office covered a challenging period, not least coping with the difficulties of leading an organisation in a time of a global pandemic.
Mr Algeo outlined Covid supports initiated by the Church and commended the staff of Church House who he stated had been cooperative and flexible in their approach and innovative in ensuring that what needed to be done got done.
Financial support for cathedrals, dioceses and parishes had been arranged during the year, he said. The first Covid loans were provided for cathedrals in 2020 and the scheme was extended into 2021. The total value of approved loans over the two years was 2.5 million. The Diocesan Deferral Scheme, which allowed for the deferral of €1 million of diocesan assessments was extended. A grant was paid through dioceses to all parishes as acknowledgement of the difficulties encountered across the island as a result of restricted congregations at a cost of €800,000.
Mr Algeo stated that the RCB was able to provide these supports thanks to the investment portfolio and investment committee chaired by Kevin Bowers and supported by the RCB’s investment staff. The investment fund had increased in value in 2021 by 21% to €239 million, he stated.
RB investments provided an income of €6.3 million last year, he said adding that expenditure was affected on both sides by the reaction to the pandemic. He thanked Canon Graham Richards for chairing the Allocations Committee which ensured that the funds of the RB were allocated effectively.
Mr Algeo said that during 2021 the outsourcing of the RCB’s investment management was completed. The various funds administered have had managers appointed depending on each fund’s investment objectives. He reported that the RB now holds no direct investments in fossil fuels and the remaining indirect investment, which accounts for 1.3%, is on a disinvestment programme which will be complete by the end of this year.
As part of the process of outsourcing investment management, Mr Algeo said it was necessary to redefine the investment objective of each fund. The RB as scheme sponsor was keen to maximise the fund return by maintaining the current asset allocation between growth and de–risked investments and the Executive Committee is working with the trustee to provide a contingent asset which would allow the trustee to maintain this higher growth/higher risk portfolio with a view to maximising the pensions in payment, he stated.
He acknowledged the long service of Lady Shiel as chair of the Church of Ireland Pensions Board and welcomed Judy Peters as incoming chair.
He outlined a number of other projects including the review of the Clergy Remuneration and Benefits Report by the Stipends Committee. Following this review a new Dignity in Church Life policy addressing clergy parental leave is being developed. The Clergy Pensions Trustee and Executive Committee has identified the need for enhanced protection for ill clergy and their families. The Bishop of Meath and Kildare has been leading the MindMatters CoI project focusing on mental health. The Pioneer Ministry proposal is another project in its infancy, he added.
He also highlighted the work of the RCB Library and the Property Committee.
Seconding the report of the RCB, Archdeacon Terry Scott noted that over the years of the pandemic, the meetings and workings of the Church had changed. As restrictions continue to ease there was a sense of emerging into a new future, he said.
“Over the past two years we’ve all become much more familiar with the wonders of technology. From recording and streaming ‘Online’ Services to conducting meetings and other events over Zoom. We’ve learnt that we can do Church in a different way. The staff of the RB have continued to serve Parishes and Dioceses with the same efficiency, effectiveness and renowned courtesy using the wonders of remote technology,” he said.
Archdeacon Scott continued: “At Diocesan and central church level Committees have continued to exercise good governance, and a whole spectrum of meetings have taken place, without needing to jump into our “fine four–fendered friends” to travel and be physically present on every occasion. Ultimately there is no substitute for being together “face to face” in the same space. It’s how friendships and relationships are formed and deepened. But we’ve discovered that we don’t need to meet like that on every occasion. A “mixed economy” of both “remote” and “in person” meetings is surely the way forward”.
He said that a degree of remote working brings benefits in terms of people’s time and cost as well as a positive environmental impact. In this context he said that the approval of the RCB staff ‘Right to Request Flexible Working’ policy was a step in the right direction. The policy will be reviewed in a year’s time.
The ongoing challenges of the climate crisis continue to influence the decision making of the Executive Committee, the Archdeacon stated. He said they were delighted, through the Church Fabric and Development Fund, to support the Irish Churches Creation Care Conference.
Discussion on the Report
Speaking to the report, Gillian Purser (Cashel, Ferns and Ossory) said that until recently she was a member of the Committee of Bishops’ Appeal. However, she changed jobs and began working for a large corporation in which she had 20 days’ annual leave per year and is now looking at a situation where she is taking three days’ leave for General Synod and one for Diocesan Synod. She has had to resign from Bishops’ Appeal. She will also have to withdraw her name from the Episcopal Electoral College for the election of a new Bishop for her dioceses as it will meet on three Tuesdays in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. She said that one of the things that drew her to the Church of Ireland was its lay involvement. She asked that the church to take into account lay people who are working and who have only 20 days leave per year. She asked if the Church only wanted only rich people who could afford to take unpaid leave and observed that unemployed people and young people were also excluded as they may not be able to afford to pay for two nights in a hotel to attend General Synod. She pointed out that we had learned a lot during Covid – that members of committees did not have to be present in Church House for a meeting. To sustained applause, she urged the RB and General Synod to take this into account to include those who are disenfranchised by the way Church meetings are organised and to ensure a greater range of people is included in the decision making process of the Church of Ireland.
David Whyte (Dublin) said that an amount of concern had been expressed in the Republic of Ireland about climate proofing of rectories and the cost to parishes. He understood that the present scheme for retro fitting homes was for householder. Rectors were not householders, he said and asked the property committee to see if they could negotiate inclusion of works on rectories in these schemes to assist parishes with the cost.
Stephen Trew commended the support of the RB for parishes during Covid. He suggested that this model of support be used to respond to other emergencies. The World Health Organisation says that the single biggest threat to health is climate change, he said and called for decisive action on the issue. He thanked the RCB for supporting the recent climate care conference but said it was up to every diocese, parish and individual to take action. “We need grass roots action and church leaders may need to help grass roots grow, Mr Trew said that the RCB could help. He said many clergy lived in draughty homes and suggested the implementation of a ‘Clergy Cosy Homes’ scheme. The RCB could help to install changing plugs for electric vehicles, reform the locomotory allowance which encourages driving, he explained. He encourage education on climate theology and encouraged people to watch the contributions to the climate care conference on the Church of Ireland website. “Let’s put environmental sustainability as a rolling item on Select Vestry and Diocesan Council agendas. We need to be personal in our action but we also need to be prophetic. Bishops and Archbishops speak into the public square but we need to take action individually. We must act and we must act now,” he stated. “We need to cultivate grass roots action and plant seeds of hope for our young people and the mission of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Bishop Michael Burrows (Tuam) commented on the Church of Ireland’s traditional commitment to the older universities and stated that this must not take away from committing to the newer universities around the country.
Turning to the Irish language he said that the Church of Ireland supported the provision of worship in Irish to the tune of €500 because of the great importance of the language in our self–understanding. He said that the language connected us to our past and heritage. “We are perhaps not as bilingual church as others but for those who value this we try to do our best,” he said and observed that the contribution of €500 was small. He paid tribute to Caroline Nolan development officer with Cumann Gaelach na hEaglaise. One of the things that Cumann Gaelach na hEaglaise has fought against was the politicisation of the Irish language he said and gave the example of the issue which arose in Coventry last year when a woman was denied permission for an Irish phrase on a headstone. He said this was overthrown and Cumann Gaelach na hEaglaise had the pleasure of making a submission on the decision and pointed out that Her Majesty visited Ireland and spoke Irish and as the Queen cannot use language politically, the language cannot be political. He suggested that €500 could be improved.
The Revd Jack Kinkead (Glendalough) supported Bishop Michael and said his wife had done a Masters degree in on the Irish language with her thesis focussing on research which look at whether or not Protestant people are perceived differently in terms of speaking Irish. The research found that they were. He commended the app Duolingo in learning Irish and encouraged people to engage with the Irish language.
Scott Brown (Connor) highlighted the lack of occupational health supports for clergy and said there was no allocation of funds to support their wellbeing. He suggested that every dioceses had one or two dysfunctional parishes and asked if it was more appropriate to pay mounting legal fees in resolving disputes or to look again at the occupational health supports for clergy. He asked what the RCB and diocesan officers would do if a parish said their incumbent had been absent for so many years and under charities law refused to pay it.
In response, Mr Algeo said the many valid points raised would be taken away for further discussion. He acknowledged the point about representation at Synod and other Church bodies being restricted because of working and financial constraints and commited to examining it but pointed out that Bill No 1 was a start. He said they would explore ways in which Rectors could access grants for home improvements. The environment would be on the agenda for a forthcoming strategy way and the executive was conscious of the environment in what they did. He told Bishop Burrows that if someone came with a on the Irish language they may persuade Canon Richards that something more substantial could be contributed. He outlined Occupational Health measures in MindMatters project. He said there was consciousness of issues amongst clergy and parishioners and he hoped to come back to Synod with an answer next year.
A motion was passed authorising the Representative Body to make the following allocations from General Funds in 2022:
A . Maintenance of the stipendiary ministry
• Episcopal costs – €893,131
• Chaplaincy costs – €294,615
• Miscellaneous – €81,192
B. Pension related costs – €105,866
C. Training of ordinands – €1,238,418
D . General Synod activities – €1,107,740
E . Miscellaneous – €16,066
Total. – €3,737,028